Lee Austin – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My most recent book (actually my first published book) is called Fortune’s Child. It’s a Science-Fiction (which from here on in I shall refer to as ‘SF’ – saves time) story, written for the teen/young adult market. I go into great and excruciating detail on my website about my methods and motivations for writing this book, which is the first part of a planned trilogy, but for this question I’ll just stick to talking about the book itself. The hero of Fortune’s Child is a 12 year-old boy called Lucas Fortune, who was abandoned at an orphanage as a baby. At the point in his life where we join the story he and a group of his school/housemates become involved in spooky goings-on involving a strange entity who speaks to Lucas in his dreams. Soon the children begin to exhibit unusual, and not always welcome, new abilities and powers. With no one to help them they must quest for the answers themselves, all the while trying to avoid the attentions of a sinister government agency who seem to want the children for their own ends.

Tell us something about yourself.

My background is not a particularly academic one in the traditional sense. I was born and raised in Exeter, the principal town of Devon, England. I left secondary college at 18 firstly to pursue a career in motorcycle engineering and then in the cinema exhibition industry as a projectionist, the latter of which I ended up doing for many years. After eventually growing disillusioned with an industry that was growing increasingly automated and less ‘people-driven’, I dabbled in several other areas of employment such as bar-work and debt management. I even somehow found time to get married, have a daughter (who’s now 12) and get divorced. Throughout this whole time though, and really pretty much constantly since I was in my mid-teens, I’ve written SF stories, both short and full-length. The Lucas Fortune Series is something I’ve been working on since the summer of 2006. The sequel to Fortune’s Child, Hunter’s Moon, is already written, though it still needs some polishing at the present time. My real full-time job now is as carer for my disabled partner Naomi, who is an artist and sculptor of some repute but who unfortunately suffers from a degenerative and incurable connective-tissue disorder which severely limits her movement and strength. Despite that we both still enjoy full lives – we even have a bonny eight month-old baby boy now to deprive us of all sleep – and we somehow manage to fit our various pursuits around these everyday mundane concerns!

What inspired you to write this book?

My inspiration for Fortune’s Child, believe it or not, actually came to me in a dream, much as Lucas Fortune’s comes to him in his (read the book to find out what that means!) Actually, what I dreamed was the whole last scene of the book, around which the rest of the story was subsequently built. I often have brilliant ideas in my dreams. At that time in 2006 I had the vague idea to try to write something for young readers, but I didn’t know what form that would take, only that it would be SF. I guess my sleeping brain took the problem and created Lucas Fortune for me all by itself. Thanks, Lobey! Anyway, since then I’ve had no problem continuing the story whilst awake. I’m very proud of it.

How did you publish this book?

In the end I used the online self-publishing service Lulu.com to publish my book, but only after much trial and error trying to do things the old-fashioned way, i.e. sending queries and submissions to just about every publisher and publishing agency I could find in the SF field. I subscribed to a service called FirstWriter.com to alert me every time a new publisher/agent either became available or was actively seeking new submissions. Through this service, which I was able to tailor to SF-specific company alerts, I must have made at least 60 or more submission attempts. Only about eight or nine of the ones I contacted even deigned to reply, mostly in a friendly fashion but always in the negative – with one exception. This was a brand new UK agency calling themselves Total Fiction, comprising a number of experienced publishing agents who had decided to set up their own company. They were actively seeking submissions from new, unpublished authors. Great, thought I. They were genuinely interested in my work, wanting me (and, I gather, about five or six others) to be the writers who helped launch their agency. All was going well – even to the point of fully-completed editing, written contracts and royalty payment agreements – until the company, with no warning, abruptly folded in the midst of the then burgeoning UK recession. I was summarily released from my contract, and I was back to Square One. Then a high-school teacher friend of mine suggested self-publishing through Lulu.com, and after much research into self-publishing (which I’d never really considered before) I decided to give it a go. I have to say that self-publishing might not be for everyone, as it’s very much a ‘go-it-alone’ process, but I actually really like it. A reporter from my local newspaper, who did a story on me recently, put it well when she said: “self-publishing can mean you lack creative oversight,” or to put it another way, there’s no one to tell you what works and what doesn’t. Fortunately for me I’d had my book professionally edited by Total Fiction, so I was already ahead of the game there. Also my partner Naomi, who trained to be a teacher before her illness stopped her, is very literate herself and proved to be a great help with the editing process.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I can’t really pinpoint the moment when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I’ve always worked in so-called everyday jobs, mostly shift-work and jobs with odd hours, but at the same time I’ve always, by and large, had a writing project on the go as well. I suppose I’ve always entertained the vague notion that I could BE a writer one day, but I always found other things to occupy my time, like earning money to pay the bills and other boring stuff like that. But it turns out writing is in my blood, as deeply ingrained in me as the need to breathe or to eat. My other careers have come and gone, but writing remains. I love the genre of Science-Fiction; reading it, watching it, commenting on it, complaining about it online – but, most of all, creating it. I want to bring SF to others. The genre, in my opinion, is severely under-appreciated, even derided in most of society. This is a great shame. I just want others to appreciate it the way I do.

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

For me the hardest part of writing is not the writing itself – what used to be called putting pen to paper, but which nowadays is more like putting finger to keyboard – it’s not always having the freedom in my life to write uninterrupted. My urge to write is not constant; rather it seems to come in waves. During an ‘on’ phase, which may last for several weeks, I can very easily write 4000 words a day consistently. Fortune’s Child was written completely in one such ‘on’ phase in 2006. At other times, whilst I might still have ideas in my head, my hands won’t seem to collaborate in the creative process and I have to shut down for a while. I’ve learned to live with this peculiarity of mine, but I do find that, when I’m ‘on’, interruptions can upset me out of all proportion. This, however, is something I just have to accept, as my duties both as a carer and as a father mean I can’t always just sit down to write, even if my head is fairly melting with the urge to create!

How do you do research for your books?

These days, fortunately, research is pretty easy. Everything a writer, or anyone else for that matter, might need to know can be found just by querying google or wikipedia. I always have my browser open whilst I’m writing, in case I need to double-check something I’m saying in my book, or I need to clarify an issue, or ensure veracity. For example, in my next book, Hunter’s Moon, there’s an extended sequence set in the Bahamas, so I spent some time researching the Bahamian Island chain and its wildlife. I always like to be sure that, when I say something as a fact in my books, it’s actually true, even though I’m writing SF. Of course writing SF means I have a lot of freedom to make stuff up myself, which I do very frequently, but sometimes nothing but the truth will do! As for Fortune’s Child, it’s set entirely in Devon, England, the place I grew up; so for my research I just had to think back to my childhood.

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

From writing this book I’ve learned a great deal about the pitfalls and hazards of the traditional publishing process, and about how, in this modern world of interconnectivity and choice, that there are real alternatives to these old ways. It takes dedication and ruthless self-regulation to self-publish, but if you’re serious, and you really want it, it’s all there for you. I also learned a lot about the exacting process of cover design too, as I made the complete cover of Fortune’s Child myself using nothing more than home image-editing software.

What are you reading now?

At the moment I’m not reading anything, which is a highly unusual state of affairs for me. Since I was a child there’s been barely a moment when I haven’t had at least one book on the go, often several. My reading habits are pretty much exclusively SF, though I have been known to dabble in other genres such as War, Mystery and even Martial Arts thriller (I just love the incredibly flowery prose of Eric Van Lustbader.) I don’t actually own many books, just a select few of my very favourites. Instead I like to borrow books from my local library. Unfortunately this means I can’t always guarantee the quality of the books I borrow (I tend to browse and borrow based on a book’s blurb or cover). I’ve taken home some real stinkers in my time through this method, but I’ve also discovered some real gems. The last time I visited my library there was nothing I really liked, so I went away empty-handed on this occasion.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favourite authors? Why?

I think it should be obvious by now that my passion is Science-Fiction. I find it hard to get really enthused about any other genre, at least to the same degree. Within the genre of SF my very favourite authors are the new wave of modern greats, names such as Peter F Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds, Neal Asher, Stephen Donaldson, Stephen Baxter and Julian May. I found every one of these authors by randomly picking up their books in my local library. I’d recommend this method to anyone. It’s genuinely exciting to stumble upon an author you might never have heard of before and to be enthralled by the stories they spin, seemingly just for you. But from my childhood I’d have to say my all-time favourite is Piers Anthony. His books were really what got me into SF (and Fantasy) in the first place. His style is very simple and straightforward, yet engaging and gentle, and what’s more he’s prolific, still writing today. He’s a real inspiration, someone I look up to with great respect indeed.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

My next book is the sequel to Fortune’s Child, Hunter’s Moon. Carrying on directly after the events of Fortune’s Child, some of Lucas Fortune’s secret history comes out as well as some startling revelations about the organisation following him. The story expands as we go farther afield to see the wider implications of what Lucas has discovered in Fortune’s Child. We also find out more about the the grand villain of the story, the Taween. At present Hunter’s Moon is in third draft form, but I plan an extensive rewrite of the middle section as I feel it could do with some trimming and tidying up. Right now I’m quite busy with marketing of Fortune’s Child, but my aim is to have Hunter’s Moon ready to publish (most likely through Lulu.com as well) by the end of this year. Looking further ahead the final part of the trilogy, The Darklings, is currently in the early planning stages. To make matters even more interesting, I’m also planning a series of short stories to accompany the main Lucas Fortune Series and further expand the universe. Finally, last but not least, I have yet another project on the go, one which I’ve actually been working on for about eight years on and off, but which I can’t say much about right now. I do drop some tantalising hints about this project on my website though…

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

I would advise anyone who wants to write to be absolutely sure that you know your subject inside and out, and that your voice as a writer is clear. I would stress the importance of making full use of any resources you have. Ask for opinions on your work. Don’t be afraid of criticism. And don’t give up if the large publishing houses seem utterly uninterested in your work. If you work hard enough, if you’re willing to cradle your work like a baby and nurture it properly, then your perseverance will pay off one day. Self-publishing through a site like Lulu.com also means that you retain control of all rights to your work. You can even set the price the book sells for, and how much profit you make from each sale. I would however strongly suggest that a budding writer look into intellectual property and copyright issues, all of which info can be easily found online.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

To promote my latest book I’ve started at the ‘grass-roots’ level with my local press. I’ve already been featured in my local newspaper, as a result of which I’ve had several calls both from people wanting to buy my book and, perhaps more importantly for the long term, from organisations interested in helping me both to promote and to sell my book to my target audience. One such call was from a very eminent local former head-teacher from Exeter who is part of a small literary society with links to local libraries and schools, and another call was from a locally-run online bookseller with global reach offering to sell my book on their website. In addition to that I’ve also been in touch with several local radio stations to arrange interviews. I’ve set up my own website and filled it to bursting point with all kinds of stuff about my passion for SF and my influences, and my hopes for the future. I’ve made it very easy for people to buy my book by liberally scattering ‘Buy It’ buttons all over my site linking directly to Lulu.com. That’s the thing about self-publishing – you have to do literally everything yourself. I love it!

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

The best place for readers to find out more about me and my book is my brand new self-made website, leeaustin.co.uk. I’ve spent a lot of time making this site into an informative yet fun place to find out more about my passion for SF. What I hope, perhaps for the average Joe who might not feel quite as I do about SF, is that some of my energy and enthusiasm for my subject rubs off on them and that they begin to see the world the way I do! I want people to discover SF for themselves. I want them to use the links on my site to go exploring. But most of all I want children to find my books and for them to be as amazed and enthralled at the unlimited possibilities inherent in Science-Fiction as I was when I was a child myself.

My book is available to buy directly from Lulu.com, where you will also find some information about the book written especially for Lulu which you won’t find anywhere else.

Finally I’m a bit of a Twitterer and Facebooker too, so anyone wanting to know more about anything I’ve said here or to contact me directly is welcome to follow my Twitter I.D., echelon09 or to search out Lee Austin